Sibling cooperation influences the age of nest leaving in an altricial bird


In altricial birds, siblings raised within a nest usually leave the nest within hours of each other, despite often differing considerably in age. The youngest members of the brood are typically underdeveloped at this time and less likely than their older siblings to survive outside the nest, yet they risk abandonment if they do not fledge with their older siblings. Nest leaving is usually initiated by the older offspring, which may delay this process to provide more time for their younger siblings to mature, increasing the younger siblings' postfledging survival and their own inclusive fitness. We tested this hypothesis in a population of house wrens Troglodytes aedon and found that broods with broad age spans among siblings had longer nestling periods than broods with narrow age spans and that delayed fledging improves the survival and reproductive prospects of younger siblings, although at a potential cost to future siblings. We also manipulated age spans through cross-fostering and found that older foster nestlings postponed fledging when raised with younger broodmates, as predicted if the age of younger nestlings determines the time of fledging. Our results support kin-selection theory and demonstrate that the exact time of fledging is attributable, in part, to sib-sib interactions. © 2013 by The University of Chicago.

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American Naturalist